Hello and welcome to the first edition of spotlight! Spotlight is a monthly special where I focus on a historical period, person or place that i find interesting and tell you all about it. I hope to reveal some fascinating insights into the history of the world and all the remarkable things that have happened.
This is month the person is Mary Boleyn, sister of the infamous Ann Boleyn, Queen of England and lover of Henry VIII.
As an English school girl I am very familiar with King Henry VIII and his infamous six wives. We even learnt a little poem to remember what happened to them – divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived! As a history enthusiast I find his reign and the legacy of the Tudor dynasty very interesting. About ten years ago that I came across a novel that opened up a new aspect of this time that I had no idea about. Mary Boleyn – the other Boleyn Girl.
The novel The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory reveals this fascinating young girl who navigated the perils of Tudor court. She became the mistress of Henry VII only to be overshadowed by her elder sister, Ann, who went on to be his Queen, then finding love with a common soldier and defying her family to marry him. I devoured the novel, which is now my favourite book, as it painted a vivid and captivating portrait of sixteenth century England and Mary Boleyn.
Mary Boleyn is an elusive historical figure and there are not many indisputable facts known about her. It is widely believed she was the younger sister of Anne, but this is based on contextual evidence rather than absolute fact. She is believed to have been a beauty, passionate and giddy. She enjoyed life at court and the trappings of luxury. She married her first husband William Carey on 4th February 1520, when she was not yet twelve years old. Ultimately she became a widow when Carey died in 1528 from the sweating sickness.
Sometime after her marriage, while her husband was still alive, it is believe she became to mistress of Henry VIII. She had her first child, a daughter by the name of Catherine, by the age of sixteen. It is widely believed that Catherine was Henry’s child. She went on to have a son Henry shortly after, again believed to be the King’s son. However, the children carried the name of her husband, Carey, and were never officially recognised as Henry’s children. Around the time of the birth of her son it seems Anne caught the attention on the King and Mary was to be overlooked. Ann went on to marry Henry in 1533 and become his second wife and Queen of England. Mary attended her sister when Henry and her visiting the King of France in 1533 and it is on the trip it is believed she met William Stafford, the man she would defy her family to marry.
By 1534, a year after she went to France with her sister, Mary was married to William Stafford. This put her in her family’s disfavour and she was banished from court. There is little evidence that she had much contact with her family or her sister the Queen until her sister’s death. After Ann was executed for adultery the Boleyn favour declined at court. Despite being cut off from her family for marrying for love Mary became a wealthy woman after the dead of her parents. She inherited wealthy lands from her father and her children went on to serve their cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Mary’s granddaughter Lettice, daughter of Catherine, went on to marry Queen Elizabeth’s love Robert Dudley and her son from her first marriage was also a favourite and possible lover of Queen Elizabeth.
Mary Boleyn was a fascinating, spirited young girl who enjoyed a wild life at court before rebelling against it all to marry the love of her life, William Stafford.